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Natural gas is bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. [Commentary]

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Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer has tirelessly promoted his "Make It in America" campaign, an initiative to advance policies to help the country regain its role as a leading global manufacturer. For too long, we have seen American businesses relocate their manufacturing processes and their jobs overseas because, among other reasons, their energy costs were too high for their products to be competitive on the world stage.

Today, U.S. businesses are moving manufacturing back to the United States, opening new factories or expanding their existing operations and hiring new workers thanks to the growing abundance of low-priced natural gas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the domestic supply of natural gas will surpass demand by 2016. The EIA also says there will be enough natural gas produced in America that we can export some of the surplus with minimal impact on natural gas prices. So, we would not lose the competitive edge that we are regaining.

More good economic news came this month from NERA Economic Consulting. It updated a 2012 Department of Energy study of the macroeconomic impacts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. The study showed that the United States is projected to remain one of the lowest cost producers of chemicals in the world even with the highest levels of LNG exports considered. Plus, the investment required by 2018 to build export facilities and increase natural gas production will speed the predicted return to full employment and is forecast to put up to 45,000 currently unemployed people back to work during this period.

Maryland has a chance to be among the first states to benefit from this projected economic boom. It should not lose this chance. This is why I support the addition of export capabilities at the Dominion Cove Point LNG Terminal in Calvert County.

Dominion, one of the nation's largest energy companies with headquarters in our neighboring state of Virginia, is well on track to receive the necessary permits, having already received permission from the Department of Energy to export LNG to all countries. Most recently, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed with the company that its agreement with the Sierra Club on the conservation easement around the terminal allows LNG exports.

Cove Point still needs about 50 permits and approvals, including key ones from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Maryland Public Service Commission. Both have engaged in thorough, exhaustive reviews and analyses of Dominion's applications — more than 21,000 pages in the case of the FERC application. I have high confidence that these federal and state regulatory authorities will make sure that the liquefying and exporting facilities will be built safely and with stringent environmental scrutiny.

Once the export capabilities are approved, it will take about three years and thousands of construction workers to build the facility. The project has the strong support of the local building trade unions that will supply the workers. Its leadership has said about 60 percent of the workers will come from southern Maryland.

When completed, Dominion will add 75 employees to its current Cove Point workforce of 100 today. The company already has signed contracts to export the natural gas to Japan and India, two countries that use coal to generate electricity, so cleaner gas will displace dirtier coal. This is good for the environment, the economy and local unemployed workers. Win-win-win.

The company that I own, Marlin Steel Wire Products, sells to companies that are in the supply chain for our rapidly growing natural gas industry. They are busy hiring new workers and growing their businesses, the way that American companies had been doing for years until the past few. This new growth needs to continue.

It's very simple. A thriving U.S. natural gas industry, one with access to all potential markets, domestic and overseas, will mean more demand for my products and for those from similar manufacturers around the country. That means more for jobs for American workers. And that's a very good thing for all of us. We should hope that Congressman Hoyer's efforts are a success.

Drew Greenblatt is president and owner of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore. His email DGreenblatt@marlinsteel.com.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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